Student outcomes, not cash, must drive schools reform

"Tying funding to specific interventions reinforces rather than changes the focus on inputs. It sounds like accountability, but it isn’t. It encourages people to comply and judge their decisions against a long and changing list of the ‘the right things’. It fails to get schools and school systems to evaluate and continually learn from the impact of their actions on student outcomes. This is the change we drastically need.

Minister Birmingham needs to shift the debate from inputs to how easy school system is improving student learning. He could lead a regular public debate on how each system is performing. A report or scorecard could show the learning outcomes for students in each system across the country, with a focus on growth from previous years. It could focus on the whole student, covering attendance and retention, literacy, numeracy, other key learning areas, education attainment, post-school destinations and well-being. Comparing progress on a prioritised subset of these measures against funding levels would spur a meaningful education debate."

Read more from Ben Jensen's opinion piece in the Australian Financial Review on their website here.

Education: kids need more exposure to deep conceptual learning

"Our children’s wellbeing relies on developing deep conceptual knowledge in key areas rather than shallow knowledge in many areas. It is useless to teach youngsters computer programming if they don’t understand foundational mathematics concepts. This means we must realise that not every STEM initiative is good.

In primary schools, STEM should be mainly about mathematics. The teaching of science in primary schools is often concentrated on procedural knowledge (e.g. can you name the planets) rather than conceptual knowledge. Developing a deep conceptual knowledge in foundational areas of maths is vital for a meaningful understanding of science, technology, engineering and mathematical skills in later years."

Read more from Ben Jensen's opinion piece in the Australian Financial Review on their website here.

AFR: "Parents and policy makers want the best for children - but that may differ"

We all want better school education. Parents and families want the best for their children and the policymakers who run our school systems want this as well. This alignment is great, but if you scratch a little bit deeper you will see that the way a policy maker approaches reform to school systems often exacerbates the concerns of parents. This is a big part of the politics of education reform and it shows why reform is often so slow.

There is a fundamental difference in how policy makers and parents think about the main outcome of school education: children's learning.  Most of the main indicators of student learning in Australia are not pointing in the right direction. Our students are falling behind students in other countries and our national tests show that we have failed to significantly improve performance in most key learning areas. This has a huge impact on Australia's future wellbeing and so is front and centre in the minds of policy makers. Virtually all of us agree it should be front and centre, but when families are thinking about their child, academic performance is not the main concern.

Read more from Ben Jensen's opinion piece in the Australian Financial Review on their website here.

US release of new report "Not So Elementary: Primary School Teacher Quality in Top-Performing Systems"

This week saw the US launch of a major new Learning First report published by the National Center on Education and the Economy. 

"From leading Australian researcher Ben Jensen, the new report Not So Elementary: Primary School Teacher Quality in Top-Performing Systems, gives new insights into a critical driver of the success of the world’s top-performing education systems—developing elementary teachers with deep content knowledge."

Press coverage:

More information on the report:

The Australian: "Teacher, teach thyself and ignore the usual advice"

"As students across the country returned to their classes this week for the new school year, their teachers and school leaders were faced with the same question as every year: How will I help my students learn?

There is no shortage of strategies offered for teachers to try to improve students’ literacy and numeracy, cultivate their 21st-century skills and support them more effectively in the classroom. This commentary is likely only to increase, given the announcement this week that Labor will fund the last two years of the Gonski scheme if returned to government.

The implication of much of this advice is that the answer to “How will I help my students learn?” is sitting right in front of teachers, if only they would consider the evidence.

In some cases this is true, but few teachers in Australia are not across the works of our leading education researchers such as John Hattie and Patrick Griffin (who are two of the best in the world)."

Read more from Ben Jensen and Jacqueline Magee's Inquirer article in The Australian on their website here. 

The Australian: "Learning First facilitates new approach to teacher training"

"Just before events in Canberra began dominating the news, a new approach to how teachers are educated before they enter classrooms was taking shape in Melbourne.

Representatives of seven education systems from across the world formulated a commitment to reform teacher education.

This was not a normal gathering. A commitment was being made by groups that often sit on opposing sides of reform debates.

Their reasons for coming together are simple enough. First are the problems in our schools. Over the next couple of months about 17,000 new teachers will graduate from 400 teacher preparation courses across Australia. Every year, too many of them are underprepared and feel overwhelmed when they enter classrooms."

Read more from Ben Jensen and Danielle Toon's Inquirer article in The Australian on their website here.